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Were the Chiefs wise to move on from Alex Smith?

It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2018. Today it’s the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Kansas City Chiefs will bring a nice test of sorts to the San Francisco 49ers defense. Last year there was a lot of improvement along the line against the running game, something the 49ers were historically bad at in 2016. Kansas City has Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware in the backfield as a nice one-two punch that will be interesting to see the 49ers stand up against.

But it’s not just the running game, Kansas City has an interesting roster that matches up well against the 49ers. Regardless of a win or a loss, expect there to be a good football game. This being a Week 3 game also makes it a good time to see where the 49ers stand. The beginning-of-season jitters will be all but gone and the 49ers can show the world where they stand as a football team, or if they need another year.

Kansas City has been busy this offseason, trading quarterback Alex Smith to Washington, Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams. The earlier move opens up the starting quarterback role to second year player Patrick Mahomes.

Draft picks

Round 2: Breeland Speaks (DE)
Round 3: Derrick Nnadi (DT)
Round 3: Dorian O’Daniel (LB)
Round 4: Armani Watts (S)
Round 6: Tremon Smith (CB)
Round 6: Kahlil McKenzie (DT)

Notable free agent acquisitions

Sammy Watkins (WR)
Xavier Williams (DT)
Anthony Hitchens (LB)

Notable departures

Alex Smith (QB) :(
Marcus Peters (CB)

Alex Smith is off to Washington in a trade that opens the door for starting quarterback to Mahomes. Mahomes’ inexperience as a starter could be something to help the 49ers given the timing of the game (more on that later). Marcus Peters has been sent to the Los Angeles Rams for a 2018 fourth round pick and a 2019 second round pick. Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy left to become the head coach of the Chicago Bears, but his influence on the Chiefs offense is still a question mark—Nagy was an offensive coordinator for two seasons with the Chiefs and didn’t even call plays until the latter half of the 2017 season.

Draftwise, the Chiefs went defense. Completely defense. They did not have a first round pick due to a trade to move up and draft Mahomes in 2017. They traded up to get Breeland Speaks in a deal that is considered a massive reach. The Derek Nnadi pick is clearly a pick used to stop the run for the KC defense that petered out as the season wore on. Considering that they went defense this entire draft, they better hope these picks work, and that their offense is developed right where they want it, because this could come back and get them.

Way too early gambling line

Chiefs -3

The matchup

Mahomes is about to get the same rude awakening all NFL quarterbacks get when they have a game or two of moderate success in the NFL: A book about them. When a quarterback first takes the reigns of the offense, the defenses are a bit more honest due to not knowing a quarterback’s tendencies this makes a bit of false hope because the quarterback can be productive—but they’ve seen nothing yet. As time goes on, defenses make notes upon notes, kept in a binder on everything the quarterback does and they crack that thing open whenever they are going up against him. Does he take a longer time to diagnose cover 2 vs other coverages? It’s in the book. Does he tend to observe one side of the field over the other in pre-snap reads? It’s in the book. When flushed out of the pocket does he run through or around the tackles? It’s in the book. And the more information defenses get, the more they implement things into their gameplan until the quarterback is forced to adjust against them. This is why you see so many quarterbacks play well the first couple of games and then flame out as time goes on—defenses are able to scheme and gameplan over the film available and the quarterback can’t keep up. This is a fault of the quarterback but can lay with sub-par coaching as well.

Here’s a good example: Colin Kaepernick carved up the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional round en route to a Super Bowl appearance. His most dangerous weapon was the read option and throwing while moving to his left. The very next year, the Packers took the read option all but out of the playbook and kept Kaepernick in the pocket as much as possible. The 49ers knew this may happen and it led to a career day where he threw for over 400 yards. Partly due to him finding open receivers and partly due to a decent gameplan with the routes run, and partly due to the fact Anquan Boldin is Anquan Boldin. Kaepernick was fortunate to get through a much more elongated period where the league had trouble figuring him out, but they did catch up—they always do. Whether Kaepernick could adjust with some good coaching, we’ll probably never know.

These same issues are going to be present for the Chiefs offense under Mahomes. The problem is, Week 3 isn’t going to be enough time for the books to be written and defenses to adjust. Mahomes isn’t a scrub, he’s not going to get figured out in a game or two à la Johnny Manziel. It would be around Week 5 when we can see what he’s really made of. That said, Mahomes isn’t going to be fresh in Week 3 and the 49ers will have some film and the book already started.

But it’s still not enough. The Chiefs have an elite tight end, a couple great receivers, decent special teams and a running game that will be the ultimate test for the 49ers’ defensive front—and you can bet they’ll be doing everything they can for their QB. If the Chiefs were in Santa Clara, I’d be more inclined to go with a 49ers win, but in KC, where it’s ridiculously tough to play, especially with that defense and noise, I think the 49ers will cough up a close loss.